Saturday, July 24, 2010

You load 16 tons, and what do you get?

Clear Creek, Utah was where I went to summer camp between my 5th and 6th grade years. We spent a week learning all sorts of things about nature and the wilderness and so on. Naturally there was the story of the "hermit" who haunted the area--it seems every camp has to have a ghost story attached to it, or it doesn't qualify as a summer camp.
One of the many things we learned there was about the old west. Now remember that this was a few years back, so I'm just writing what I recall. Back then, some of the more unscrupulous business men came up with a plan to keep men working for them. They would hire them to come work in these middle of nowhere places to mine ore or (ore or?) any other number of jobs. Because they were so far from anywhere, the workers couldn't really pop over to Target to get their needs. So what do you do? Simple: the owner creates a general store where the workers can buy supplies. And even better, they don't have to pay for them, they instead will just deduct the goods from the worker's pay. Sounds pretty good, right?
Unfortunately, some of these owners figured out that if they charge more for the goods than what the workers could make, then the workers ended up owing the company money--and would have to work to pay it off. It was a downward spiral for the workers.
I believe this inspired the song "16 Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford (who was actually from Tennessee, believe it or not). It was one of the songs we learned at summer camp. The chorus went:
You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

It's hard to believe they could get away with something like that. But, times were tough and people would do anything to get and keep a job. Hmmm. Not so unlike today.
There is an interesting word in the business world. It is "salary". If you make a salary, you don't qualify for overtime pay. What this equates to is owners and companies using that as an excuse to work someone as many hours as they can.
But those hours don't have to be at your physical job location. With the increase in technology, we can now have access to our work at home. Heck, you can even have work access in your hand with a mobile internet device. Then there are also the company issued cell phones, so they can reach you "whenever it is important." It's amazing how many things are "important" these days.
The line between home life and work continues to become more blurred. And I am going to go out on a limb and say that isn't a good thing. If you are a married, you need time to spend with your spouse to keep your relationship healthy. If you are parent, you need time with your kids. And yes, you even need time for yourself. I honestly believe people work better when they have a good work / life balance.
If good old Tennessee Ernie Ford were to write that song today, it may go:
You sent sixteen emails, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I'm a salaried employee and my boss will say no.

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